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Why pineapple and papaya make a great marinade

Pineapple and papaya are often included in marinades. It’s clear that these fruits add delicious flavor and sweetness to your meat, but there’s far more going on here. These fruits hold secret powers that help make meats more scrumptious, and there’s more science in these sauces than you might expect.

There are many marinade recipes to choose from. However, some ingredients do more than just impart a delicious flavor. Pineapple and papaya contain flesh-dissolving enzymes! These specialized proteins help break down tough meat, creating a delicious and tender meal. 

How Fruit Tenderizes Meat

The power of these fruits to create succulent meats comes from specialized proteins. Proteins are the molecular machines of life. They are responsible for everything from vision to digestion. One group of proteins, called enzymes, are responsible for assembling and disassembling other molecules

Enzymes called proteases even disassemble other proteins. Papaya and pineapple contain large amounts of these enzymes. When added to meat, they break down the structural protein that makes the meat tough. 

Tough meat gets its texture from the muscle and connective tissue that makes it up. These are made of long chains of amino acids (the building blocks of protein.) Proteases work by breaking these chains. 

Acidic marinades containing vinegar or lemon juice work in a similar way. They unwind proteins by changing the pH. However, enzymes generally work faster than acids.

These two fruits contain different types of this enzyme with very similar effects. When the meat is marinated in either juice, it quickly becomes tender. It is important to marinate the meat for no more than 30 minutes to keep it from getting too soft.

Pineapple (Ananas comosus)

Pineapples contain bromelain, a group of meat-eating proteins. They are concentrated in the stems of the plant but can be found throughout. Therefore, pineapple extracts are often made from the stems of the plant. These extracts can be used to tenderize meat or as a folk-medicine. 

This protein is named for the plant family, Bromeliaceae. This family includes pineapples as well as Spanish moss (which is not a true moss.) 

This protein is also found in the fruit. This means pineapple juice makes a great ingredient for marinades. This sweet fruit also gives marinades a delicious flavor. It can be added to a Hawaiian style meal or a classic BBQ sauce to make the meal tender and sweet.

Other Uses

The enzymes in pineapple have been used medicinally for a number of purposes. Pineapple has long been used as a folk medicine. It is sold as an anti-inflammatory as well as a digestive supplement. It has also been approved in Europe to treat severe burns

Bromelain is also being investigated to treat a number of other medical conditions. It is important to consult a medical professional before trying to use bromelain as a medicine. Its effectiveness and safety have not been well established.

Some potential uses for bromelain include:

  • Chest pain due to heart disease
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinus infections
  • Surgical trauma
  • Thrombosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart disease

Papaya (Carica papaya)

Papayas contain an enzyme with similar effects to pineapple. This compound is called papain. It is mostly found in young, green papayas. Commercial meat tenderizers are usually made of papaya enzymes.

Some people are allergic to papain. It is important to consult a doctor if you have concerns, or before using it to treat a medical condition.

Closely related species like mountain papaya also contain similar enzymes.

Other Uses

Papain can also be used for a number of other purposes. It has been used in a number of industrial and food processes. These include:

  • Clarifying beer
  • Treating silk and wool for dying
  • Removing hair from leather
  • Manufacturing rubber

Papain also shows promise for a number of medical uses including:

  • Aiding digestion
  • Treating ulcers
  • Reducing swelling
  • Treating parasites
  • As an antibiotic

The meat dissolving enzymes of papaya and pineapple make a great marinade! It is important to remember not to marinate your meat too long. These enzymes can easily go too far, making the meat into mush. Do not marinate in these fruit for longer than 30 minutes. Keeping the marinade cold may slow its effects. Therefore, if you need extra time before cooking your meat, make sure to put it in the back of the fridge!

By Casey Hofford, Contributing Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Navistock

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